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Old 08-04-2012, 11:26 AM
mwool mwool is offline
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 11
Default Water in Diesel fuel

I have a 2011 3500 dually Diesel. On an RV forum a few people with 2009-2012 have complained about getting water in diesel fuel from service station or somewhere.

1. Water in fuel sensor did not alert
2. injectors had to be changed
3. some fuel pumps had to be changed (I believe)
4. GM would not cover anything even though the sensor did not light

My questions:
- I use the Wal-mart diesel fuel additive with each fill-up – does this really help with this potential issue
- I change the fuel filter every other oil change – is this smart to do
- Is there a better fuel filter I should use
- anything else I can do to protect against damage from a bad service station with water in fuel tank
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Old 08-04-2012, 12:04 PM
More Power's Avatar
More Power More Power is offline
Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Big Sky Country
Posts: 10,267

Water is often exaggerated as a problem for diesel owners. Water in fuel does happen occasionally, but not as often as you might think. For example, I've been driving a diesel pickup for 26 years. I've never identified any water in the fuel, or found any water in any fuel filter, or seen a water in fuel warning.

Those trucks that are more at risk are located in moist/humid areas of the country or areas with significant precip. For example, spring floods, hurricanes or a similar weather event can contaminate the underground fuel storage tanks used by fuel stations. Don't buy fuel from a station that was flooded... I also don't buy fuel from a brand new station. New tanks could be contaminated with water or all sorts of junk. I found this out the hard way.

Buy your fuel at a known good station, preferably one that does a lot of business - high turnover. The risk is lower.

If a diesel pickup owner can prove that: 1- there was water contamination that damaged the fuel injection system, and 2- the WIF (Water In Fuel) sensor didn't display a warning, you have recourse and GM should provide warranty coverage. On the other hand, if you're using the wrong type of fuel treatment, you could be on the hook.

GM specified in bulletin #03-06-04-017, Dated March 13, 2003 that Stanadyne and Racor diesel fuel additives had been approved (but not necessarily recommended) for use in their diesel engines. This is partly because these fuel additives brands are a water demulsifying variety (separate water from the fuel), meaning they work to allow free water to coalesce, which can then be drained away using your fuel filter’s water drain valve. Other brands of fuel additives emulsify the water, allowing it to blend with the fuel and pass through the fuel filters and fuel injection system. There is quite some debate about which is better, but... GM provides the warranty.

Those fuel additives that emulsify (cause water to mix with the fuel) water might include chemicals such as alcohol or acetone, which act as a water absorber. The mainstream fuel additive manufacturers do not use alcohol, which is largely condemned by all diesel injection system manufacturers. You shouldn’t use a treatment that contains alcohol either – in your truck’s fuel tank, that is.

Additional fuel filtration.... That's a touchy subject. Vendors and some truck owners believe strongly about the need for additional fuel filtration. Vendors believe small-minute particles of contamination that make it past the factory fuel filter are what contribute to injector degradation. Most aftermarket fuel filter products include an additional means to trap water - some don't.

If you have some experience with fuel quality problems, additional fuel filtration would be recommended. Otherwise, your factory fuel filter should provide all the protection you need - at least through the warranty period. If you tend to own the same truck past the warranty period, additional fuel filtration could be a good investment. Always buy the latest recommended factory fuel filter. Changing the fuel filter every other oil change is fine. I'm told the factory fuel filter has gone through 4 generations in the past 12 years. This tells me GM is adapting to the real world in terms of fuel quality and the need to minimize warranty exposure.
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Old 08-05-2012, 03:35 PM
mwool mwool is offline
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 11

“More Power” thanks. I will check my additive. Some more update from the RV forum.
- One person was able to get their insurance company to cover the expense by claiming vandalism.
- Another persons insurance company would not use vandalism as he had a locking fuel cap
- One person has a lawyer involved and has found the station had twice the allowed water in tank and algae. The GM dealer captured fluid from tank and fuel filter and sealed them for later potential legal action for the owner to use. This seemed to be an out of the way station up north somewhere.
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Old 08-05-2012, 04:13 PM
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DmaxMaverick DmaxMaverick is offline
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: CA
Posts: 11,882

WIF damage is very rare. A lot more rare than what is discussed, or feared. All Diesel fuel has water in it, in varying amounts. If you fuel up and then have WIF engine damage, something went very wrong, somewhere. The fuel filter sensor needs quite a bit of water before the WIF indicator is triggered - hundreds, if not thousands of times more than what is common and acceptable. Vandalism, of course is possible, and probably the most common. Actual damage is most often due to improper correction, or outright ignoring the condition, after discovered. Once the light comes on, any further driving increases the chance of damage. In almost every situation, if you stop and correct the condition immediately upon noticing the problem, it won't cause damage. If you get a tank with so much water that it could cause damage, you'll know it long before you forget where you got your fuel. Also, the "water handling" fuel additives, of either type, will only help with occasional, incidental water in very small amounts. If you get enough water to cause damage, the additive will be of no help, before during or after.

If you do get water in your fuel, that causes substantial damage, the fueling source is responsible. If you can't identify the source, your comprehensive insurance will cover it. There is a reasonable expectation, and legal/accepted fuel quality standards, that you will receive fuel suitable for use in your otherwise operational vehicle. If you have water damage not attributable to any responsible person or business, it is undefined damage not caused by your reasonable action or inaction.

I've never had to make such a claim, but had a conversation with my (25+ year) insurance agent about this. At the time, I was getting covered for rodent damage to my wife's car. It was parked in our driveway for 2 weeks and the buggers had their way under the hood. It was covered by either our homeowner's or auto policy. The auto policy deductible was lower, so we filed that claim, our choice. Saved me about $800.
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Old 08-06-2012, 01:44 PM
Mark Rinker's Avatar
Mark Rinker Mark Rinker is offline
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 5,813

I think the most likely cause for getting enough water into a Duramax fuel system to get the 'WIF' light to illuminate would be submersion, i.e. from offroading mishap or a flood recovery vehicle.
2011 Chevrolet Tahoe 5.3L daily driver
  • Previous owner of two 1994 6.5L K3500s, '01, '02, and '05 6.6L K2500s, '04 C4500, '06 K3500 dually, '06 K3500 SRW, '09 K3500HD SRW, '05 Denali
  • Total GM diesel miles to date : ~950K
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Old 08-06-2012, 02:53 PM
More Power's Avatar
More Power More Power is offline
Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Big Sky Country
Posts: 10,267

The synthetic fabric used by the fuel tank pickup sock is also designed to resist the passage of water. Though, if enough water gets into the tank it will make its way through the sock.

I had a converation with a GM 6.5L diesel owner a few years ago who was the victim of vandalism. Some neighbor's kid poured water into his fuel tank - lots of water.

He pumped most of the water out using the electric fuel lift pump, which then drained out the fuel filter's drain valve. I recommended he drop the fuel tank to get it all, because the fuel pickup won't. Any pool of water left in the tank will create an environment for algea growth and some of the free water molecules could dissolve into the fuel over time or create rust in the fuel system. Neither is a good thing, and both could result in fuel injection system problems long-term.

Your GM dealer should at the very least test the WIF sensor by temporarily installing a fuel filter with a few ounces of water in it - before refusing to accept any responsibility.
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Old 08-06-2012, 04:46 PM
Kennedy Kennedy is offline
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Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Loyal WI US
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Regular use of a quality emulsifying additive like FPPF Total Power will help keep the system clean and "dry" so long as there is not a large amount of water. For large amounts FPPF Fuel Power wil take it out on a one to one ratio.
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